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Norwegian-American Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica



The Cryowing UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) of Norut AS will fly research instrumentation over a wide area during the traverse.

(By Rune Storvold)

Science ObjectivesUAV and crew

There are three major tasks for the UAV borne sensors during the traverse.

  1. Expand the area coverage of the GPR measurements by using the same frequency radar as the vehicle mounted radar and in this way determine if these measurements are representative of the larger area.
  2. Collect high resolution aerial photography to determine surface roughness by using shadows and knowledge of solar elevation to determine the height and distribution of sastrugi.
  3. Collection of meteorological data such as temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and wind direction.

The airborne data will be important for the analysis of the satellite remote sensing data, and as input to the meteorological and snow modeling work that will be done in the project.


The instrumentation package consists of:

Meteorological instruments
  • temperature and humidity sensors
  • barometeric pressure sensor
  • wind speed and direction (from GPS and orientation and airspeed sensors)

Radar Sounder
  • C-band (5,3 GHz center frequency)Patch Antenna
  • FMCW
  • Patch Antenna (see Picture)

Digital Camera
  • Canon EOS 400D:
  • 10 MPX
  • 28 or 50 mm lens

Metadata instruments:
  • GPS, Holux GR-213
  • IMU, Microstrain 3DM-GX1 (orientation sensor)

The payload is controlled by two networked computers, which again transfer near real time metadata and samples of sensor data to the internet using Iridium modems (NAL Research).

UAV Technology

Operating an UAV in the extreme temperatures and high altitudes of the Antarctic Plateau is technically challenging. We aim at flying 600 km patterns covering the areas surrounding the drill sites and the traverse path. The patterns will take 5-6 hours each to complete. This has required special considerations in the design (no bare hands operations outdoors) and choice of materials and electronic equipment.

A new airframe has been designed with this project in mind to ease cold weather operation. Range and payload capacity has been increased and catapult launch capability added. The new design will allow belly landings and still protect the engine and thruster. Comprehensive cold tests have been performed of all components as well as a cold weather test (below -30 deg. C) in Karasjok. A student project on development of icing sensor has been carried out, but we do not expect severe icing problems on the Antarctic Plateau.
UAV flying
  • Estimated range: 1500-2000 km
  • Load capacity (incl. fuel): 10 kg
  • Components tested to -40 C
  • Catapult launch designed for up to 3500m elevation

Further reading

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